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Letters of Recommendation

You will probably have students ask you to write a letter of recommendation for graduate or professional school, a scholarship or fellowship, a job, or other types of experience. The following tips can help you through this process if you are a new letter writer, or provide additional insight if you have many letters in your files.

  • Do you have enough information to provide a strong recommendation?
  • Do you know the student well enough to capture their experience, skills, and qualities?
  • You don’t need to have deep knowledge of every aspect of the student’s experience. A student may be requesting a letter from you to speak on academic or research qualities, and another letter from an internship supervisor to speak on internship activities.
  • There may be a time when you need to politely turn down the student’s request if you feel you don’t know the student well enough or have not had enough interactions with the student to write a strong letter of recommendation. It’s ok to say no.
  • Request information from the student regarding the type of experience he or she is seeking: listing of specific graduate programs, fellowships, scholarships, or job posting descriptions.
  • Request information from the student that will provide a comprehensive picture of experiences, skills, and qualities. You may have a good understanding of the student, but having information in front of you may prompt other ideas to include in your letter. The resume or CV will be a solid document to draw from, but other platforms can provide additional information and perspective. These platforms may include LinkedIn, a professional website or YouTube channel, and GitHub.
  • Build in time to write your letter. Gauge yourself on your typical turnaround time: factors include your knowledge of the student, your workload, and the number of students requesting letters at the same time. Consider getting the message out to students ahead of time who may be requesting letters. Make an announcement in your class or lab at the beginning of the semester about the importance of allowing enough time for recommenders to write their letters.
  • Consider discrimination laws and FERPA when writing a recommendation, reference letter, or serving as a reference for a student.
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